China no enemy, just competition: India’s new Army Chief says
Lt. Gen Bikram Singh, India’s new Chief of Army Staff, is establishing his priorities after assuming command from outgoing Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh.
“My first priority as Chief of Army Staff will be to ensure operational readiness of the Army to enable it to fulfill its Constitutional obligations and assigned roles effectively,” he said in an interview with Sainik Samachar, a journal of the Indian Armed Forces. “Secondly, I will address the hollowness and ensure that the modernization process proceeds as per stipulated timelines. Thirdly, I will strengthen the Army’s work culture and the core values, namely, duty, honor, loyalty, integrity, respect and selfless service,” said the 25th chief of the world’s second largest Army.
Bikram Singh said his focus will also be on effectively managing human resources to ensure high standards of morale and motivation among all his staff, regardless of rank.
“Everything, including the military, needs to move forward if we are serious about developing India into a regional leader.”
Chief’s elevation fraught with hurdles
The new Army Chief, who assumed the post May 31, remained chief-designate for three months longer than any of his predecessors because of a challenge to his appointment.
The appointment was challenged in the India Supreme Court, which recently dismissed the petition that raised questions about his involvement in a 2001 encounter in Jammu and Kashmir and his qualities as a leader. Critics complained that his troops were undisciplined during his tenure as Deputy Force Commander of the multination United Nations Peacekeeping mission in the Congo.
Retired Maj. Gen. Surjit Singh told the Delhi-based Mail Today said he is concerned by the impression created that there is too much infighting among Army leaders.
“The Indian Army is still one of the best in the world,” he said, adding that the first challenge for the new leader would be to “restore the public’s confidence in the system.”
Bikram Singh was commissioned into the Sikh Light Infantry Regiment on March 31, 1972. He served in the Northern Command and as a United Nations observer in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the early 1990s.
He studied at the Defense Services Staff College, the Army War College, and the United States Army War College in Pennsylvania.
“’Til the Kargil War, the Army used to be a closeted organization, and interactions with the media were not entertained. It was after the Kargil War that the perception changed. Even as Chief of Army Staff, I will ensure that people get to know about what is happening in the Army,” he told The Times of India.
Bikram Singh said his high school teachers thought he would go on to become a doctor, since he excelled in biology and zoology, but as long as he can remember, he wanted to join the Indian Army. “If I were to be born again, I would join the Indian Army,” he said.
Outgoing chief slaps notice on next-in-line leader
Barely a week before his retirement, V.K. Singh sent a show cause notice to Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag, next in line to be the Army Chief after Bikram Singh retires in 2014.
The notice accused Suhag of unprofessional conduct in the handling of an intelligence operation in Assam and gave him a week to respond.
The show cause notice is being widely regarded as V.K. Singh’s final blow to the Ministry of Defense which denied him an extra year in office over his conflicting date of birth records.
The notice from the Army Chief to Suhag, currently serving as the General Officer Commanding [GOC] 3 Corps, could have meant trouble for the Indian government when the time came for him to assume the Army Chief post in 2014.
However, in his first major move as Army Chief, Bikram Singh on June 6 revoked his predecessor’s Discipline and Vigilance Department ban on Suhag.
‘China is not the enemy’
Bikram Singh also took the opportunity to calm the waters about China, saying recent patrol activities should not be viewed as alarming.
“Minor incidents do occur. Patrols from their side move to what is their perception of the Line of Actual Control [LAC] and our patrols also move to what is our perception of the LAC. These are tactical issues at best and should not be taken to a strategic level,” Singh said.
“In today’s world, China is not an enemy. China is a competitor,” he said.
Indian officials recently went public with concerns over reports Chinese troops have crossed the border more than 500 times over the last two years. Officials do not expect tensions to escalate in relation to this report.
V.K. Singh said China might be opening a tunnel that goes through the Pamir ranges of the Wakhan Corridor, which borders the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northern-most state. These parts of Jammu and Kashmir, though claimed by India, are occupied by Pakistan.
“But for PoK [Pakistan occupied Kashmir], India would have had direct access to Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor,” he told The Telegraph.
China and Afghanistan, despite being neighboring countries, do not have a border crossing and China opening a narrow border with Afghanistan would mean India will be at risk of losing its stronghold in Afghanistan, where it already enjoys a considerable presence.
“This connectivity [between China and Afghanistan] would be physical. And it is interested in the Wakhan Corridor through which it would facilitate the exploitation of natural resources,” said V.K. Singh, who is writing his doctoral thesis on “Fundamentalism in Afghanistan and the Geo Strategic Significance of the Wakhan Corridor.”
How the India Army Chief is selected
* Two or three commanders out of the northern, western, south-western, eastern, southern, central and Army training command are shortlisted.
* The Ministry of Defense studies the suitability of these officers and follows with extensive intelligence checks.
* All reports are submitted to the cabinet committee, which selects the senior-most Army commander to be the chief.
* The chief remains in office until the age of 62 or for three years, whichever comes first.